The Jewish roots of the Eucharist.

Very excited to introduce my mum – Julie Brook who has been reading the amazing book ‘Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist’ by Brandt Pitre, and has written this great article for Faith in our Families…

7919-communion_wine_bread_unleavened.630w.tn

By Julie Brook

Did you know that the Jews had Sacred Bread which the priests elevated in the Temple before the people every Sabbath saying, ‘Behold God’s love for you’? Or that at every Passover the sacrificial lambs were fixed on a kind of crucifix? Or that the Jews were expecting a new Exodus? Or that a cup of wine was missing at the Last Supper?

Did you think that the Jews were expecting a political figure? What they were really waiting for was the restoration of Israel in a new Exodus. The first Exodus ensured the freedom of the Jews to worship God. By sacrificing on Mount Sinai Moses and the people sealed their Covenant relationship with God concluding the ritual with a great feast. Soon afterwards the Jews broke the Covenant by worshipping the Golden Calf but a thousand years later the prophet Jeremiah foretold a new, everlasting Covenant.

images1_html_72fe1bf9

After the Exodus the Jews built a Tabernacle as the central point of God’s presence in their midst. It was a small, moveable building, the dwelling place of God on earth. The later Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem was permanent and far more splendid but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 537BC. King Cyrus of Persia permitted it to be rebuilt but it never regained its splendor.

The prophets now forecast a new Covenant, a new Temple that God would build in the age of salvation at the time of a new Exodus. It would bring both Jews and Gentiles into a new Promised Land which they would possess forever. The new Moses would be a Messiah, a king, prophet and miracle-worker who would rain down bread from heaven. Redemption would take place on a Passover night and a new Covenant would end in a heavenly banquet.

This new Exodus would need a new Passover. The procedure for the first Passover was as follows: first, sacrificing an unblemished male lamb (a priestly action), spreading the blood of the lamb on the doorposts (averting the angel of death), and to complete the sacrifice, eating the lamb and finally keeping the Passover as a Remembrance.

Fifteen centuries later, at the time of Jesus, the lamb had to be sacrificed in the Temple and eaten in Jerusalem. The Jews would drive a thin smooth stave of wood through the shoulders of the lamb in order to hang it and skin it. Another spit would transfix it right through from the lower parts right up to the head. Jesus would have gone up to Jerusalem every year and seen lambs bled and crucified – thus prefiguring his own death.

supper1

The last supper

There are similarities between the Last Supper and the traditional Passover which took place in Jerusalem after sunset on Passover night; wine was drunk, the meaning of the bread was explained and a final hymn was sung. The father of the family led the ceremony and explained the meaning of the lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs (which fulfilled God’s original command to keep the Passover as a day of ‘Remembrance’).

Jesus, however, acted as host and leader of the Apostles, not as their father. He focused on the New Covenant rather than on the events of the first Exodus. Without mentioning the body and blood of the Passover lamb he spoke of his own body and blood while handling the traditional food – bread and wine – stating ‘This is my Body’ and ‘ This is my Blood’, and commanding the Apostles to  ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Thus, Jesus deliberately changed the format.

Moses in the Wilderness

Manna in the desert

The manna in the desert was a miraculous bread from heaven. It appeared in the same quantity, about one litre, never lasted for more than one day, was provided for forty years and stopped the day after the Israelites reached the Promised Land. Some of the manna was preserved in the Temple as being holy, from God. The Jews came to believe that this bread existed in heaven before the world began, and it would return to earth again one day at the new Exodus with the Messiah.

TableofShewbread

Bread of the Presence

The holy bread in the Temple – the Bread of the Presence – was in the form of twelve cakes for the twelve tribes of Israel; with the wine offering it was the sign of God’s Presence, his Holy Face, an everlasting Covenant, offered by the High Priest and eaten by priests in Jerusalem. At the Last Supper there were twelve apostles, there was the Bread and Wine of Jesus’ presence, offered by Jesus himself in a new Covenant and eaten by the Apostles (now priests).

The Last Supper was not just a new Passover, or new Manna; it was also the institution of the new Bread and Wine of the Presence i.e. Jesus. Like the priests in the Temple before him, Jesus was saying, ‘Behold God’s love for you’. A mandatory part of the Jewish Passover was the four cups of wine. The first cup was blessed before the food was brought in. The second was drunk after the father’s telling of the Exodus story. After the meal started the third cup was blessed and drunk, and the concluding rites were the singing of the Psalms and the drinking of the fourth cup. It was forbidden to drink any wine between the third and fourth cup.

Luke 22: 14 – 20 mentions only two cups. The first of these was drunk by the Apostles and Jesus said, ‘…I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ The second cup mentioned came after supper, so it was the traditional third cup. This was the moment when Jesus said, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new Covenant in my blood.’ The psalm was sung and they all went out to Gethsemane. There is no mention here of the fourth cup, and yet the Passover was not complete without it.

thirst

A soldier offers Jesus wine with myrrh.

Imagine the bewilderment of the apostles. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed three times about the cup he must drink. This must be the fourth cup. On the cross Jesus was offered wine and myrrh, a traditional act of mercy to dull the pain of crucifixion, but Jesus refused it. Later he cried out, ‘I thirst’, thus asking for a drink, and was offered vinegar (sour wine) which he accepted. He then said, ‘It is finished’. This was the fourth cup, taken at the very moment of death.

By vowing not to drink the last cup at the Last Supper, Jesus extended his last Passover meal to include his own death, so uniting the Last Supper to his death on the cross. No Passover meal was complete without the eating of the lamb; now Jesus’ disciples might understand his insistence (John 6:35 – 58) that in order to have life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. This is the Body and Blood of the resurrected Jesus, holy indeed and the source of everlasting life.

O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brandt Pitre. Doubleday.  ISBN 978-0-385-53184-9

 

Mary Magdalene and Jesus – it was all wrong.

Appearance of Christ to Mary MagdaleneWell we’ve reached that time of year again where the Christian hating media feels compelled to acknowledge Easter but doesn’t want to; so they find an angle which hints at academic interest but which really intends to knock the faith. Of course there is the yawningly awful annual Jesus/Magdalene affair/marriage story. I guess the fact that Jesus rose from the dead isn’t sensationalist enough?! Better throw a bit of forbidden romance in there to keep everyone interested right?

Well I’ve been thinking about this very deeply recently and have unwittingly unearthed a rather uncomfortable truth about my own relationship with Jesus.

Me and Maggers have the same problem – we are both obsessed with Jesus to the point where we both want to posses Him. We are clingy. This aspect of the relationship is all wrong.

In John 20:17 Mary encounters the risen Jesus for the first time: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…'” The word translated “touch” is a Greek word which means “to cling to, to lay hold of.” This wasn’t just a touch; it was a grip. She was literally clinging onto him. If Jesus was the rock, Maggers was the barnacle. There was no way anyone was gonna pries her off!

I have to say I would have done exactly the same thing. Mary desperately clings on to the love of her life whom  – only a few days earlier was crucified right in front of her. She was ecstatic her Lord had returned. She was terrified of losing Him again. She wasn’t gonna let go – no way!

barnacle_perforatus_perforatus_balanus_10-07-12_1

A barnacle.

But you see, as with all possessive relationships, it was centering around the one doing the possessing. In effect, Maggers wanted to keep Him under her control. She wanted the relationship to be on her terms.

Ouch. How many of us are doing that in our relationships with God? Quite a few of us right? I have been. Just like Maggers, I have basically been using God as a comfort blanket. And there was no freaking way I was ever gonna let that false notion of God go! No sir! I was comfortable.

We do it all the time. In prayer, in the liturgy, in our relationships with other people. We want to be in charge. We want to posses God. We want to posses Him because He is beautiful and wonderful and He is love. We want to posses Him because we are afraid of letting Him be in charge. It comes down to our lack of trust.

Maggers relationship with Jesus was all wrong. What she didn’t realise of course was that clinging onto Jesus would actually prevent their relationship from becoming even deeper. When He told her to let Him go, it was because He wanted to be with her in an entirely new, closer and more personal way than He had been before.

You see, the relationship that Jesus wanted with Mary Magdalene – the relationship He wants with you and me – is like no other relationship that is possible with another human being. Jesus has instructed us to eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53).

What sort of a relationship is this?!

eucharist

The closest relationships I have in my own life are with my husband and children. Obviously I have a sexual relationship with my husband in which I let him into my body. And obviously my children have also been within my body as they grew in my womb. But Jesus is offering me something quite different here:

He wants to physically dwell within me – His creation – on a permanent basis. This is of course a sort of foretaste of heaven – but He desires for that relationship to begin now – here on earth. He desires to be so ultimately close to me that he wishes to be physically absorbed into my cells and float around in my blood stream. He wishes to penetrate my soul and literally posses every part of my being. He must posses me! Not the other way round! It has to be this way round because He is the creator and I am the created.

I believe that so many of us get this aspect of the relationship wrong. So many of us are having a relationship with Christ based on our terms – just like Mary Magdalene did.

It’s so sad that the Christian hating media simply cannot fathom that relationships can exist without some sort of sexual aspect. They will just never understand that there is a deeper relationship available here – much, much deeper and more intense than a sexual one. But for them to understand that, they would have to understand Christ, and the Mass, and Love. And sadly, they clearly have no idea about any of those things.

 

Giving Everything.

 

Eucharist-resources

Sitting at mass a few days ago I found my mind wandering. This is not unusual. It happens in prayer too – ALL THE TIME. It used to really bother me and so I used to really try to concentrate. Try harder! Pray harder! Block out all unwanted thoughts.

Of course, this was the fool’s way of approaching the situation.

What I was actually trying to do was suppress all thoughts I personally deemed as not holy enough for the situation of praying. Ha!ha! How stupid of me. Do I really think I can hide my thoughts from God?! He knows my thoughts before they enter my head. For goodness sake – He is permitting those thoughts to enter my head, even if they are placed there by Satan. God is in control.

Perhaps I thought If God knew what I was really thinking He wouldn’t like me as much? Perhaps I wouldn’t be good enough for Him? Ahhh… that’s another trick from the Devil.

I have learned since then how to allow my thoughts to manifest themselves during prayer, but without losing my focus on God. Now I am able to allow a thought to remain present, but view it from an objective point of view – from God’s point of view, rather than viewing it subjectively from my own point of view and allowing myself to become distracted by it.

This does require a certain amount of detachment. It also requires a rather large dose of compassion towards oneself and also the humility to accept our imperfectness. You also have to be solid in the reality of God’s unending mercy and love for you as His beautiful child. But once you are secure in those things it is possible to allow our thoughts the freedom to manifest themselves during prayer. We are then able to stand naked (as it were) in front of God – warts and all. And when we do, we can allow God to show us why He is allowing those thoughts to manifest themselves in our heads.

 

For instance – when I was sitting in Mass I suddenly found overwhelming thoughts of sex entering my mind. This is not particularly unusual for me (depending where I am in my cycle) as i’m sure it isn’t for many people.  I used to panic at thoughts like these as they seemed to be the most inappropriate, but now I just take a step back and observe them objectively alongside Christ. He Is my Father, I am His child, and He wants to help me as any good parent does.

I usually tell Him “Oh look! See what has just popped into my head? I  wonder why you have allowed that to arrive in my mind? Let’s look at it together.” 

Jesus holding child

So we sit together and observe the thought in complete honesty. I don’t try to hide it or suppress it, and I remain humble enough not to allow guilt or shame to overwhelm me. Sometimes it becomes apparent that this is something or someone that I need to be praying for. Very often it is simply to be honest in a situation in which I am struggling. But at other times it is because God is trying to teach me or show me something. The Holy Spirit doesn’t usually shout – He whispers, and we have to quieten our minds enough to hear Him.

This particular time a few days ago as thoughts of sex entered my mind, I sat alongside Christ in observing why He had allowed these thoughts to manifest – especially during Mass. I allowed Him to direct my thoughts and I felt a great sense of acknowledgment in regards to what it takes for me to live the Church’s teaching regarding marriage and sex. It’s not easy. It is completely different to contracepted sex. I am called to give everything during sex. A total gift of self. And every time I do it becomes not only a repeat of my wedding vows but also a total act of submission to God’s will. I literally couldn’t give anymore at that moment, physically, emotionally or spiritually. That just doesn’t happen during contracepted sex. But it does take a lot to give like that – God only knows! Because of that total gift of self I/we have brought 3 new lives into the world.

Anyway, during that moment as we observed this thought together He did fill me with this overwhelming sense of acknowledgment for giving myself entirely. Which was nice – because remaining open to life is one of  the hardest thing I have ever had to give.

He then directed my thoughts back up onto the altar. It was the consecration. 🙂 God’s ways are perfect! He had taken me down the path of acknowledgment in all I had to give, so I could enter more deeply into the mystery of all He gave for me.

During that moment of the consecration, Jesus was present there on the altar, at Calvary, giving everything He was: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – for me. 🙂

Christianity is a love affair.

sacrificiomisa3

I realised at that moment that all I had to give was simply a response to His eternal declaration of love on the cross. In truth, I never would have reached the point where I was able to remain open to life without the Eucharist.

I felt suddenly incredibly special to Him – which of course I am. I wanted to throw my arms around Him. But He wants more than that. Through the Eucharist He wishes to actually dwell within me, just as I do in Him. I remained in that wonderful, beautiful moment for the rest of Mass, and for sometime afterwards.

Later that evening my thoughts were turned to the atrocities in Paris, and the fact that our western secular society, weakened by several generations of cultural marxism, is not strong enough to withstand a 60 million influx of muslim immigrants. I cried bitter tears as I came to terms with the fact that I was not willing to die for a society that honours gay marriage and kills millions of its own children through abortion.

I thought of the warnings and promises of Fatima, and stupidly viewed all these things subjectively  – which promptly became too much and overwhelmed me.

In the morning I was able to sit alongside Christ, objectively viewing these thoughts, and I became aware of my attachments to things I never considered I was attached to: my country, my national identity, my freedom, my safety etc. And then Christ directed my thoughts back 24 hours to the wonderful experience I had at Mass and I realised that He was asking me to respond to our current situation in exactly the same way. He was helping me understand that I was going to, or should I say am going to, be called to possibly give EVERYTHING in His name.

Lamb

The only possible solution to the crisis we are facing as a society is Christianity. Now, God’s ways are perfect, and I am just wondering in a bizzar mathematical kinda way if Islam + Cultural marxism = the elimination of the problem of the lukewarm Christian – or perhaps a better way of saying it is: the rise of the solid faithful Christian on fire with the Holy Spirit.

One thing is certain – in the end Our Lady’s immaculate heart will triumph and we will enter the era of peace. But before that we will have to pass through the great tribulation. And we will all be called to give everything. I pray that this will lead all of us into a deeper understanding and appreciation of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and open our hearts to the indescribable joy that there is in this Sacrament. Because that is the one thing that will sustain us.

“So… the Pope said Divorce is OK now, right?”

couple getting divorced

I have seen plenty of social media discussion recently on the new annulment reforms Pope Francis has brought in. Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge) has brought with very mixed reactions from priests and laity alike.

Predictably, some are saying it is too slack while others say it is not changed the process at all. But there does seem to be the inevitable grey area’s of the document which let’s face it, is something we have come to expect from Pope Francis. For instance one part of the document talks about lack of faith at the time the marriage took place and how this could be a possible contributor to declaring the marriage void. But how is one to determine this?

It’s a very difficult question, and there is really no black and white answer here. I certainly do not envy the Priests and Bishops who are going to have to be making the decisions in these matters.

Of course some people will argue that Pope Francis is just asking for trouble by seemingly blurring the edges or allowing grey areas. What also doesn’t help is the fact that the media do not understand the document or even have the slightest idea of what sacramental marriage actually means. It doubly doesn’t help when they purposefully twist the Pope’s words to make it sound like he has said something he never said at all.

For instance I heard of a priest recently who received a phone call from a lady who wanted to marry the father of her child because she was under the impression that “the Pope said divorce is ok now, right?”.

(Stop. Just take a minute to notice your reaction to that last sentence. Did you laugh? Sigh and roll your eyes? Did you think how stupid that woman must be? Be honest with yourself.)

The woman was told that this was not the case and to consult her local parish priest. Of course this was the right thing to do, but I can’t help feeling this was a blinding opportunity for evangelisation and catechesis that might have brought this woman and her whole family back into the faith.

It was not this woman’s fault that she had not been given the correct information. In fact her statement only highlights the chronic lack of catechesis and pathetic marriage prep that the last two generations have had to suffer. If anything her lack of knowledge shames the church itself.

I have to say I am not totally up to date on the annulment reforms, but I feel it is something that practising Catholics should all gain some basic knowledge of. It cannot be stressed enough how sensitively one must handle a question of this nature. Because for many people, the harsh truth is that they will not be able to marry the Mother/Father of their children or the person they are in love with. Please do not underestimate how painful this sort of news is.

It can only be truly explained in the context of a relationship with Christ – because that is the only way it can be understood, and lived.

Let’s not moan and whine about the new reforms, but instead always try to be at the service of our brothers and sisters, and help them to rectify any marriage issues they may have. And if their situation cannot be rectified, let us respectfully help them to accept and carry the cross that they have been given.

Today is my 2nd anniversary of becoming a priest.

579135_10151891349962279_1945719432_n

By Fr. Simon Dray

Today is my 2nd anniversary of becoming a priest.

We might ask, ‘what do you do as a priest?’, but in this 2nd year of priesthood there’s been a deeper appreciation that priesthood is less about ‘doing’ and more about ‘being’.

My diary’s still full, but a priest is meant to be an ‘alter Christus’ ‘another Christ to the world’. Through the Priesthood, Christ the head continues to make himself present to his body, the Church.

The priest accompanies those carrying heavy crosses – people who do so with great humility and love despite their burdens. I initially thought, ‘at the very least I can pray and offer Mass for their intentions’.

Another priest corrected me, saying ‘no saying Mass is the most we can ever do because we are priests’. The Mass isn’t something that we (collectively) do. It remains Christ’s work of our redemption. He told us when he is ‘lifted up he will draw all men to himself’. In the Eucharist he does exactly that, so it’s the highest prayer we can offer for someone.

When the priest pronounces ‘this is my body… this is my blood’, they aren’t merely the words of the Institution Narrative, but of Consecration because it’s Christ, the Word of God who is speaking them!

In the same way, ‘Do this in memory of me’, means we aren’t re-enacting an ancient historical event, but are once again drawn into his saving passion, death and resurrection. God gives us back our life; one that endures for the eternal life.

Dying on a cross is humiliating and lonely. Those closest to Christ had betrayed, denied and deserted him. Only John, the beloved disciple, his Blessed Mother and the other women took station with him. In the Eucharist, Christ as God, finds a way never to be alone on the cross.

That’s why we go to Sunday Mass and why it matters if we choose to be absent because it means we’re missing from the foot of the cross – again! Coming to Mass makes us like the ‘beloved disciple’ and we stand by him as he gives his life as a ransom for many.

Only the fruit of the cross can sustain the Christian life as it gives us the grace to be faithful to Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. Bishop Richard, at Festival 50, said, ‘we need priests, for unless our communities have at their centre the celebration of the Eucharist, the Mass, they will not be Catholic communities in the true sense’.

We must get real! If we want priests we can’t sit around waiting for the bishop to send us one. Indeed, it’s the other way round – we must send, from this community, our sons, brothers and nephews so he can ordain them!

Priestly vocations come from practising Catholic families. Pray that tonight we go home and make the Eucharist and Priesthood a priority for our family discussions and prayer.

Pray for priests. Pray for this priest, and for all Catholic priests all around the world.

From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

Ash Wednesday marks four years since I rejected the “gay lifestyle” and came back to the Catholic Church. I didn’t have a singular moment of conversion like St. Paul. Rather, it was a slow drip, a series of gradual, often hesitant pivots towards the Church.

The first pivot came when Saint John Paul II died.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had been the only pope I’d ever known up to that time. My childhood parish had a painting of him on the altar next to the tabernacle. I’m from Chicago, so naturally I have Polish ancestry, and a Polish pope was a point of pride when other kids called me a dumb Polak or a Commie. I was a toddler when Pope John Paul II was elected, so I had never experienced a conclave before. A German? They’re calling him “God’s Rottweiler” and he was in the Hitler Youth?

Despite my secular, sinful life, I’d always had a soft spot and sympathy for Holy Mother Church, even during the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal. I was willing to give Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to know more about him. Some of the news coverage cited his pre-conclave homily as sealing the deal for the cardinal electors. Then Cardinal Ratzinger declared, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” That hit me right between the eyes. So I started, occasionally, visiting Catholic websites, learning more about what this “relativism” is. There are some incredible resources out there.

It’s unclear how much of it was sentimentalism and how much was the pursuit of truth. I knew in my heart that my way of living was wrong. But I didn’t change my life. I was Catholic in name only. I hadn’t attended mass in years, despite a parish a block away from my apartment. The weekend gay bar hopping, binge drinking, pornography consumption, and casual hook-ups went on and on. I was young and “you only live once.” Nevertheless, a seed was planted.

The second pivot came when I found an old prayer book.

$_35

An elderly relative had died, and I was helping family clean out their house. I found a copy of “My Prayer Book” by Father F. X. Lasance in a drawer and snuck it into my backpack. For whatever reason, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I wanted it, or ask if I could take it. Surely they’d have said yes. The book was at least a half-century old and barely used. Most of the pages stuck together. Over the course of several months, I read it cover to cover. It was astounding.

Immersed in that culture that “has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” in that book I encountered beautiful reflections on self-denial, on forgiveness, even “The Blessing of Pain and Grief.” It catechized me in a way that 12 years of Catholic schools and an ostensibly Catholic family failed to do. A few years later when I lost it, I was able to order a replacement online from Fraternity Publications. I highly recommend it.

The third pivot came after overhearing a conversation at work about the Real Presence.

The Priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

I’m not sure how they happened onto the topic, but the office secretary was talking to another employee about Roman Catholics, and she said, “We believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ.” 

“We do?” I thought? Like, THE body of Christ? Huh? No, it’s just a symbol. What was she talking about? I’d never heard that before, and I’m Catholic. Whatever.

Some online research confirmed what she said. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Again, after 12 years of Catholic schools and Catholic parents I did not even know such a fundamental doctrine of the faith? How was that possible? Had I ever received worthily, validly? If one needs to be in a state of grace to approach for communion, why did everybody go up? Why didn’t my mother go to confession? How come she’d never encouraged us kids to regularly confess? The more I read about the Real Presence, the more ashamed I felt, even betrayed.

The fourth pivot came after reading an article on “the Latin Mass” on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

Missa_tridentina_002

The article preceded Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum. Several Chicago parishes offered the mass. “Fans” quoted in the article gushed over how transcendent the Latin Mass was, how it was so beautiful they wanted to cry. I’d always enjoyed history, and I knew this was the mass my parents grew up with. So one Sunday, I visited one of the parishes.

I expected to witness the mass I grew up with, only in a different language, with nice(r) music, and with the priest facing the other way. What I encountered was baffling and frustrating. I had no idea what was going on. For long periods, nothing happened. The priest just stood there, facing the tabernacle. He wasn’t talking at all, much less in Latin, from what I could tell. But a realization hit me, seeing the priest there before the tabernacle: This is what mass is all about: the Eucharist!

The night and day difference between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form sent me back to the Internet. I found some podcasts on iTunes by Dr. James Dobbins that dove into the history of the Extraordinary Form, about how much traces back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the symbolism of ad orientum, and so on. It was like finding buried treasure. I returned to that parish several times, window shopping as it were.

The fifth pivot came when someone asked me to be their child’s godfather.

baptism

For one thing, I never expected that parent to ask me. We weren’t particularly close. For another, I knew this was a serious, sacred obligation I was entering into. It wasn’t merely an honorific title. For the first time in 15, maybe 20 years, I went to confession.

The Lord blessed me with a gentle and patient priest behind the confessional screen. He counselled me that my same sex attraction was, alas, a heavy cross to bear. But he didn’t make me feel dirty, or like a pervert. After he lead me through making an act of contrition, I left the confessional absolved, attended the holy sacrifice of the mass, and approached the communion rail in a state of grace for the first time since I was a child. I slid back into my sinful ways pretty quickly. But I’d poke my head out of the sewer now and then, to listen to Father John Corapi (good preacher, pray for him, sad situation) on Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio station in Chicago, or to attend Holy Week services.

Finally, two years after my God-child’s baptism, I found myself waking up Sunday mornings with my conscience telling me, “You should go to mass.” I’d trek to the “Latin Rite” church and sit in a pew near the back, watching the priest from afar, knowing more now about what was going on. My head knew what was true, but my heart was lukewarm. Sin continued.

The final pivot came came that Lent.

Lent1

My conscience had been gnawing at me. “You’re a hypocrite. You can’t call yourself Catholic but live this way.” So I challenged myself: Lent is only about 40 days, right? Six weeks? This year’s Lent, let’s try to do everything the Church teaches, especially as it pertains to purity. No more porn. No more hours wasted on gay hook-up websites. No more lusting. Complete celibacy and chastity. Mass every Sunday. Regular confession.

I did it.

The first two weeks were rough, don’t get me wrong. Whether it was through grace, or the intercession of Our Lady, the saints, somehow I did it.

What’s more, I liked it! It was liberating. I was free of the weight, the rules, the oppressive expectations that the gay lifestyle places on you. Style your hair a certain way. Dress a certain way. Decorate your home a certain way. Think a certain way. Listen to certain music, watch certain television shows. Conform.

My friends’ first hint that I’d “changed” came from seeing my “likes” of Catholic posts on Facebook and from my decision to sit out the gay pride parade despite living so close to the parade route. My social circle has shrunk considerably. My best friend cut me off after I declined to attend his “wedding.” Other friends accuse me of being a “self-loathing homosexual.” Another friend, who I’m still close to, has told me to my face, with all sincerity, that he is worried about my mental health.

Ultimately though, this is not about me being happy or freed or spiritually fed/fulfilled/whatever you want to call it. My conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.

I cannot quite explain why I so readily accept the Church’s teachings on same-sex attraction. It’s all perfectly logical and rationale to me. I’d lived that lifestyle and knew how ugly it was, what a lie it was. If I wanted to follow Christ, I would have to take up a cross. There was no “conversion” in that regard.

In a culture that says it’s all about Me, I realized that no, it’s not, and humility and sacrifice must be part and parcel of my life from now on. He must increase, I must decrease. Perhaps that’s why the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite played such a vital role in my conversion and continued efforts to life out the Faith. The Extraordinary Form is not about me. On that account, one might argue, its silence is deafening. I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me strengthen my faith, grow in charity, battle my pride, and strive for purity in a way the Ordinary Form, as commonly offered, could not.

I’ve remained celibate since that Ash Wednesday in 2011. I’ve struggled with impure thoughts and actions, but am light years from who I used to be. With frequently confession and the graces flowing from that sacrament and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and His most merciful Sacred Heart, I soldier on in the Church Militant. Oh yeah, I think Our Lady’s on my side too!

Since I was invited to write this story for a family oriented blog, my advice to Catholic parents would be this: Teach your children obedience. Teach them obedience to you as mothers and fathers, and obedience to God and the Church. Model that obedience to them. It will require struggle, humility, and sacrifice, potentially the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that your role isn’t to be their friend, or to give them the happy or comfortable childhood you never had. Your role is to get them to heaven. Trust in Jesus.

May God bless us all this Lent.

Joe.

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

Fr Aidan Kieran

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

The season of Lent is almost upon us, it begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we are asked to take on three traditional Christian disciplines: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Today I want to share with you a new insight into fasting which I gained recently.

I’ve generally always dreaded the idea of fasting during Lent. It always seemed to me like a test of endurance, and I never thought I had all that much endurance. Typically I would decide to, say, give up biscuits for the whole of Lent. It would last about ten days, I would have a biscuit and Lent would be over for me. And no matter what people would say about ‘beginning again’ it would never feel the same once failure had set in.

Now, I have learned a new approach to fasting, and it has become a much more appealing prospect.

St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.

I can describe this new approach to fasting – the little way of fasting – with an example. Here is a fast I recently undertook:

At breakfast time I didn’t have my normal cup of tea. I had a cup of hot water instead. It’s not much of a sacrifice is it? But this is the important part: fasting must always be accompanied by prayer. You may remember from the Gospels that on one occasion Jesus told the disciples that a particular evil spirit could only be driven out by prayer AND fasting. The two must be always occur together.

So while I was having my cup of water, I prayed.

I spoke to the Lord Jesus and told him that I was denying myself this 1 cup of tea as an act of love for him. I was doing this so that I might grow in my love for Him. I prayed for others. I asked Him to grant my intentions, but above all I asked him to help me grow in faith and love of Him.

It didn’t matter that it was only a small sacrifice. That’s not what matters to the Lord. What matters is that the sacrifice is accompanied by prayer and offered with a sincere and open loving heart. Fasting must always be accompanied by prayer, and must be done as an act of love for the Lord.

Perhaps you would prefer to go through Our Lady. While fasting, we can also pray through the intercession of Mary, our blessed Mother. I can tell her I am offering my fast as an act of love for her, and ask her to bring me closer to her son Jesus. We give Mary the title ‘mediatrix of all graces’ so we can of course pray through her intercession.

With this approach, fasting has become a wonderfully joyful act. Rather than a miserable endurance test, it becomes a joyful act of offering a sacrifice for the good of others, the good of the Church and above all the good of my own soul. I can have a smile on my face, knowing that the small sacrifice I have made has had a powerful effect in the spiritual life. Since I started this little way of fasting, I have prayed better and I feel I have drawn closer to Christ.

It’s just 1 cup of tea. A little thing, done with great love.

During Lent, I won’t totally deprive myself of other drinks, because I know I would find that too burdensome. My aim is to give up my first cup of tea each morning. On some days I may give up my second cup of tea too! – a definite sacrifice, but one I can realistically sustain.  And each time I am conscious of foregoing a drink I would like, I will pray. I will offer my sacrifice to the Lord with a joyful heart and a smile on my face.

I will offer my Lenten fasting for your intentions, for the people who read this blog. In particular I will pray that those of you who need to do so will make a good confession in preparation for Easter, because confession is so important.

And if any of you would like me to pray for a particular intention of yours, please contact me through this blog in the comments section below. I’d be happy to offer my fasting on a particular day for your personal intention.

I hope you will find these words about fasting helpful during the coming season of Lent.

Fr Aidan.

friendly_cup_big

 

Another boring Valentines day, Another boring Mass.

DinnerIsBoring_350

Last week I was visiting a church near to us. I went into the sacristy before Mass to speak to a friend of mine. She was busy getting things ready for Mass and was showing me where all the vestments and altar linens were kept. She asked me if I would like to serve Mass that day. With a heavy heart I said “No, thanks. I’m a girl!”

That threw me a little bit and it wasn’t until i got home later that day that I realised that something very, very disturbing indeed was going on in that sacristy. The used altar cloths – the corporals, and the purificators used by the priests and the ministers of Holy Communion were not being properly rinsed after Mass. Instead they were being tossed straight into an old cardboard box where they would wait to be picked up by the cleaners and put through the washing machine. This meant that small parts of our Lord’s body and precious blood were getting washed down the drain. With our Lord’s body and blood on this linen, this old cardboard box shoved under the sink was in-fact acting as a tabernacle.

I spoke to a priest friend about this and he told me that there is no way in the world this should be happening. I was horrified. I felt sick to my stomach. I was so distressed by this that I didn’t sleep that night. How could this possibly be happening? Did no-one realise what was happening? Did no-one care?

In the morning I cancelled all my plans for that day and set about buying the things that were needed to set this situation right. I bought a glass bowl that the linens could be soaked in, a clothes dryer they could be hung out on, I replaced the old cardboard box with a plastic crate and put instructions for the priests and ministers of Holy Communion explaining how the linens needed to be rinsed by the priest before going into the laundry. I spoke to the sacristan that morning who had never really considered what was happening but agreed with me that it could not continue. I spoke to some of the priests who agreed with me that it could not continue.  I set up all the stuff in the sacristy and said the chaplet of Divine Mercy, begging forgiveness for the way His body and precious blood had been treated. I went home feeling uneasy – but better.

That night I sent an email to the priests of that parish explaining what I had done and also saying “… although there are many clubs, groups and initiatives within the parish, the central focus should always be Jesus in the Eucharist. And if we cannot get respect for Jesus in the Eucharist right, then any other work we do is quite frankly useless…”

I spoke to another priest friend that night and told him about the situation. He was embarrassed to say that he had also been failing to rinse the altar cloths properly after Mass, but that he would not be making that mistake again. It started to dawn on me that this was probably not a one off situation. My heart sank. No, it broke.

936001t

The next morning I got a call from the parish manager. She had removed all the stuff I had put into the sacristy and proceeded to call me a “very naughty girl” for acting without getting specific permission from the parish priest (who’s day off it was yesterday). I apologised and said that in any other circumstance I would agree with her, but on the issue of the blessed sacrament being disrespected then I’m afraid I had no other choice than to act that day. She asked me who was in charge of the parish. I said Christ. She disagreed with me! It seems that by not following strict parish protocol I had somehow offended her to the point of undoing time and space. She was more concerned with the fact that I hadn’t got an email reply from the parish priest, than she was about our Lord’s body and precious blood getting washed down the drain. I told a priest friend about this and he told me not to worry too much. He said “Clare, if she had been around on the morning of the resurrection she would have complained to Jesus that He had left cloths in the tomb!”

So now what was I to do? I sent a letter of apology to the priests:

“…I’m very sorry if I have caused any offence by trying to sort out the used linen situation in the sacristy.
The parish manager called me today and explained that under no circumstances must I act without the approval of the Parish Priest.
I understand and agree with this, but in this circumstance my responsibility was to my Lord. I’m afraid once I found out what was happening, I knew the situation needed rectifying that day. I simply could not be responsible for His Body or Precious Blood being disrespected in that way for a second longer.
I was also aware that if anyone else was to find out what was happening it would cause great embarrassment to the parish.
I’m sorry if I have caused distress, and of course it is up to the parish priest if he wants the linen situation to continue in the way it was? But I assumed that he would have been as horrified as me…”

I just couldn’t understand how the parish priest was letting this happen? Either he didn’t know he was supposed to be doing this – which is a FAIL. Or he did know he was supposed to be doing this but wasn’t bothering – FAIL. Or even worse, he didn’t believe those altar cloths were carrying our Lord’s body or precious blood – MAJOR FAIL.

How was it possible, I thought, that the relationship this priest has with Jesus (assuming he has one) has got so dry, so mundane. How is it possible that his heart has become so cold that he is not moved to tears by this situation like I am?

25815

And then my husband asked me a question: “Sooooo honey! What shall we do for valentines day this year? Hot crazy sex under the stars? A mad shopping weekend in Paris? A hot air balloon ride over the Pyramids? Or shall we just do what we’ve done every year for the last decade and get a take-away and watch Arnold Schwarzenegga movies?”

“Meh.” I replied. It kinda struck me at that point that I had probably been judging that poor priest unfairly.

Let me be the first to admit that I take my spouse for granted – everyday. We have been married for 15 years. And anyone who has been married for more than about 5 minuets will agree with me that the mind blowing-ness of well, everything tends to wear off pretty soon – well day-to-day at least. Eating dinner together every night, having sex, watching films, conversation, all gets a bit, blah. And of course the relationship will go through good patches and bad patches. And in the bad patches we would rather just not be around each other at all to be honest, but we have made a life long commitment so we just get on with it.

Now who am I to say that this priest is not going through a bad patch in his relationship with Jesus? And who am I to say whether the relationship has just got a bit, blah? This good and faithful priest has said mass pretty much at least once EVERYDAY for the last 40 years or so. And that is besides all his other duties. I can’t even say whether I have the backbone to survive marriage for 40 years?! Who knows? The thought sends shivers down my spine to be honest (and my poor husbands too he!he!).

But, I am also a mother. And if it was my son’s blood on that cloth, and I was standing I the sacristy after Mass, you can bet your bottom dollar the priest would not be throwing that altar linen into a beat up old cardboard box. And for us as laity, do we prepare properly every time we receive Jesus? Or has that become routine too? Forgive us Mother Mary, for routinely disrespecting your Son in this way.

In hindsight I would have approached this whole situation differently by going straight to the parish priest and bringing up the subject with gentleness and compassion. But instead I just reacted, all be it justifiably, but it has still resulted in a massive evangelisation FAIL on my part in regards to the needs of the priest. Now, somehow, I have got to find a way to sort it all out “…That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”

Finally, may I ask all the priests who read this blog to have a think about if this is a situation that is going on in your sacristy? If it is, please, please take steps to ensure the Blessed Sacrament is not washed down the drain. And know that I am praying for you. I love you, and I understand that a lifelong vocation is not easy, but it is worth it.

Too ashamed to pray.

Elsa, trying to hide her deepest darkest secrets.

Elsa, trying to hide her deepest darkest secrets.

I don’t know why I have put a picture of Elsa at the top of this post. I think it is because one of the things I most enjoyed about Frozen is the fact that Elsa has to carry the heavy burden of hiding the deepest darkest parts of herself.

I was talking to a priest friend recently about this very subject. There is a wall that effects pretty much everyone in regards to prayer – and that wall is shame.

I think shame effects us the most when we don’t quite measure up to our own false expectations of ourselves. Perhaps we are not quite as good as we thought were eh? Or as good as we thought we should be?

Now, everyday the enemy encourages us to think or do something sinful. We quite often oblige him – especially if we are tired, or upset or under pressure. Then it comes time to pray. “Oh I can’t…” we tell ourselves “I’ve just been watching porn! I’ll pray later when the memory of naked ladies is not so fresh in my mind.”

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! That is the stupidest thing we could do. Why did Jesus die again? Oh yes – it was to TAKE AWAY MY SINS!

Another stupid trap I have fallen into in the past was to only show the good parts of myself to God during prayer – a bit like being on my best behaviour. I would try to please and impress God with all the ways I had been good today, and ask for help with the things I had found difficult. But I sure as hell was not going to tell Him about the deepest darkest parts of my heart because otherwise He might be cross with me or not like me any more.

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! That is the enemy talking. Do you really think you can hide stuff from God?! He made you for goodness sake – ‘even the hairs on your head have all been counted!’ (Luke 12:7) You might as well come clean and tell Him – He knows it all anyway! The only person you are fooling here is yourself.

But sometimes we do something that makes us too ashamed to even look ourselves in the mirror. An abortion, an affair, an addiction. This is exactly where the enemy wants you to be: feeling worthless, isolated, ashamed, beyond hope. He will lie to you and tell you that God does not love you any more. He will tell you that God is angry and hates you for what you have done. He will confuse you with notions of justifying your actions to regain your lost pride in yourself.

Pride. Hmmm. Pride is the enemy’s favourite sin. It takes true humility to admit we have done something wrong. True humility is not easy.

If I’m totally honest with you here I have to admit that I’m not too badly effected with shame. Is that because I never think or do anything wrong? No! Of course not – I sin everyday, we all do. I think I am not bound by shame because I am a brutally honest with myself, I am totally in love with confession, AND because I am so solidly anchored in my identity in the eyes of God:

I know how small and wretched I am compared to Him – and I’m totally OK with that.

What I find more difficult is that fact that the creator of the universe would consider me so lovable, so marvellous and interesting and funny and delightful, that He would rather die for me than risk spending eternity without me. But He did – ‘while we were still sinners…’ (Romans 5:8) I know who I am in Christ. I know I will be in need of His forgiveness at the end of every day, for the rest of my life. I am a sorry, forgiven sinner, and I am not ashamed to say it.

So please, do not let shame get in the way of proper true prayer. Tonight, tell Jesus that thing that you keep hidden in the darkest depths of your heart. He wants to take it from you – you don’t need to carry it any more. Tomorrow, do yourself a favour: go to confession. He has the power to take that sin away.

I kinda wanna break into song here and start singing “Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back any more…” But I’ll spare you all 😉

Elsa-from-Frozen-singing-Let-It-Go

 

Fr Dylan’s Sermons – Meeting Jesus all over again, for the first time…

Profile pic

Mk 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5.10

I’d like us to consider today what were the FIRST words ever said by the Lord Jesus. Because in today’s Gospel, St Mark gives us what he portrays as the first PUBLIC words of the Lord, the first words He said to the crowds, the first words indicating His MESSAGE.  In contrast, I looked up what we heard in the Gospel last week, which recorded from St John the start of the Lord’s public life, and had His first words as, “What are you seeking for?”(Jn 1:38) -words that’s that weren’t His message addressed to the crowd, but were words addressed in a personal encounter -words that point out how the Lord Jesus satisfies what people are seeking for. This, in fact, is a point that St John repeatedly notes in the various encounters he records between people meeting Jesus. Time and again: People meet Jesus, they sense something in Him that will satisfy, and so the question from Him, “What are you seeking for?” sums this up.

Back to St Mark, however, and those first PUBLIC words, words to the crowds, encapsulating His message. The Church presents them to us today along with our first reading from the prophet Jonah. In Jonah we heard of how Jonah went to Nineveh and brought a call to repentance, and of how the people responded to that call by “renouncing their evil behaviour”(Jonah 3:10). And the point is this: the first public words of the Lord Jesus LIKEWISE brought a call to change: “Repent and believe the Good News”(Mk 1:15). More fully: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent…”(Mk 1:15) -this, as St Mark very deliberately portrays it, sums up the whole message of Jesus and His mission.

Let me be emphatic about a point: MEETING JESUS brings an automatic call to REPENT, a call to change my life.
I noted last week that Samuel couldn’t recognize the call of the Lord because he didn’t yet “know” Him (1 Sam 3:7). I noted also that just as the first disciples were prepared for the call to “follow” Him (Jn 1:43) by first being called to “come and see”(Jn 1:39) -to spend time with Him. And I said that you and I need to spend time with Him daily by reading the Gospels and praying.

There is, however, something MORE that happens when I spend time with Jesus, when I get to know Him. And what happens is this: I automatically start to compare His life with mine; to see how I don’t measure up to the love, the compassion, the generosity, the hard work, the perseverance, and so forth, that I see I the Lord’s earthly life.  And so, to spend time with the Lord automatically brings a call to repentance, a call to change. And I receive that call to change from the same One who empowers me, by His grace, to be forgiven for my past and enabled to live differently for the future.

When Christ came He didn’t just come as another prophet. He came as the fulfillment of all that was promised. And so He said, “the time is fulfilled”(Mk 1:15). He came as the living embodiment of God’s reign on earth, and so He said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand”(Mk 1:15). He came calling us to a new way of life, and so He said, “repent”(Mk 1:15).

And so last week’s Gospel with the PERSONAL call to spend time with Him as the foundation of the call to “follow” Him, is actually making the same point as this week’s Gospel with the PUBLIC call to “repent” and enter into a new way a life -a new way of life that is now possible because we have met Him.

meeting-jesus320